Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Recipe #1: Moroccan-Style Chicken Tajine with Almonds and Prunes (Richmond, VA)

Number-one-and-only son is living in an apartment this summer, so he can't take advantage of the all-you-can-eat cafeteria options available to him during the school year. He called yesterday to request some of his favorite chicken recipes for crock-pot cooking. This is the first one I send him:

MOROCCAN-STYLE CHICKEN TAJINE WITH ALMONDS AND PRUNES* (Serves 6 normal or 4 paranormal or 3 abnormally hungry people)

1/2 cup blanched almonds (or you can use the ones with skins on; nobody's looking!)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the crock pot, so the food won't stick
2 medium onions, sliced
1 4-lb chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces (or 4 lbs. of chicken thighs, best without skins, although bones are okay. Use organic chicken if you can afford it, because it's better and better for you.)
1 cup pitted dried prunes
1 fresh, ripe pear, thinly sliced or diced
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth

Toast the almonds in your toaster oven until light golden. Do the same with the sesame seeds. Watch carefully, so they don't go up in flames.
Set aside, except if they're burnt and you have to throw them away and start from scratch. (Always keep extra almonds and sesame seeds on hand, just in case....)

Put the oil and onion slices into the crock pot. Add chicken, prunes, pear, cinnamon, turmeric, salt and pepper, and broth.
Cover the crock pot and cook on high for 6 hours or low for 8.

Go do what you have to do -- work, study, exercise, whatever, and, of course, call your mother.

When the smell of this food gets so amazingly enticing that you can't help taking the lid off the crock pot to check to see if it's done, it's probably done.

Gently mix everything and, if the chicken isn't pink inside, take a taste.

Before serving, sprinkle chicken with toasted almonds and sesame seeds.
Sit down, relax, dig in.
When you're finished, call your mother to thank her for this recipe.

(*With apologies to "The Sephardic Table" by Paula Grau Twena)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Coffee, Tea, or He? (Richmond, VA)

Maybe it's the blare of salsa music in small spaces. Perhaps it's genetic. Or it could be that the passage of time has affected my inner ear-ways. Be that as it may, I am definitely experiencing a bit of hearing loss. While you may think that this is something negative, I am finding that, at least at times, it makes life more entertaining.

I'm in Starbucks, ordering a cup of Joe. "I'll have a tall, dark, and handsome," I joke with the gray-haired woman behind the counter.

"With a six pack or without?" she counters.

"I'm not a beer drinker," I respond.

"That's not what I meant," she says.

"I know."

Then, as I'm turning to walk away, she asks, "Do you scream?"

I do an Exorcist-inspired neck whip-around. "Huh?!"

"Do you scream?"

"Wha-a-a-t?" I'm taken aback and aforth -- shocked into wide-eyed confusion.

She looks me in the wider eye and repeats the question, in that loud, exaggerated, and over-enunciated way people usually reserve for berating disobedient children or explaining something to someone who doesn't speak English: "DO YOU USE CREAM?"

The answer, when I'm able to stop laughing and start breathing again, is: "Yes."

Hear Today, Gone Tomorrow (Richmond, VA)

Although we've matured into sweet, caring, and compassionate adults, my brother and I were sometimes, I must confess, mean little children -- although he was the older child who probably should have known better, while I was the innocent and adoring younger sister who wanted to imitate and impress him. But, anyway, I particularly remember our torturing Aunt Ceil, who wore a hearing aid, by pretending to yell loudly into her face when we were, actually, silently mouthing words.

Well, there is such a thing as Karma, you know.

I know, because I was Karma-lized, not for the first or last time, about six years ago. Convinced that I was losing my hearing, I scheduled an appointment with the audiologist. He put me through the entire audio-file, checking to see if my ears were waxing prolific, ascertaining my ability to raise a hand upon hearing beeps or peeps, and testing whether or not I could distinguish and repeat whispered words.

When informed that I had passed every examination, I expressed incredulity. "There's definitely something wrong with my hearing," I insisted.

"Why do you say that?" asked the doctor.

"I can't hear my son when he speaks," I said.

"How old is your son?"


"You can't hear him," explained the wise doctor, "because he doesn't want you to hear him."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Heat Wave (Richmond, VA)

My favorite seasons are Spring and Fall, those in-between times when days are cool and comfortable and nights, cooler and comfortabler still. I crave the crescendo of colorful flowers and turning leaves, bask in the breezes, revel in the roaring rainfalls.

Winters bring snow, beautiful as it cascades down and blankets the barren landscape. Beautiful for the first 20 minutes -- before it sullies to an incredibly unattractive shade of gray-brown-black, the result of foot and vehicular traffic, of chimney emanations and churned-up soil and clay. Beautiful before it causes us to have to excavate our cars from the snowbanks that bury them and to dig them out yet again, each time the snowplow passes. Then the snow turns to ice, and the real lack of fun begins. Walking turns treacherous. In their inexplicable quest to deplete grocery shelves of milk and eggs, lunatic drivers careen into median strips and other vehicles. Here in Richmond, when snow is in the air or even predicted on the airwaves, we shutter schools, businesses, and life for a full week. Due to the phenomenon of global or national or regional or local warming, we are back to what passes for normal within a few days or 30 minutes. Except for the grim, sooty snow mountains, which stick around for months or centuries, like icebergs towering over nearly every parking lot. (Suggestion: They could be converted into monuments to Confederate heroes!!!)

On the positive side, one CAN seek refuge from the winter cold. Most buildings are sufficiently heated, sometimes (as in my workplace) approximating sauna temperatures. Wearing layers of clothing is advisable. I always have my heavy faux-fur coat, a sweater, a long-sleeved shirt, a tee, stockings, knee-high socks, boots, and "inside" shoes either on or nearby. Sometimes, as in my home (which Husband insists on maintaining at what he considers a healthful temperature -- which translates to normal people as Arctic, unbearable, and more frigid than it is outside), I pull on long underwear (in addition to my normally short underwear), furry slippers, and wool sweaters so ample that I could secrete the donor sheep in there with me. I burrow under all the blankets, quilts, and random overcoats that I can get my mittens on.

A southern summer is not quite so easy to escape. You can divest yourself of most of your clothing, to the tsk-tsking or ogling of innocent and experienced bystanders, but your skin still sticks with you. The air oozes, thicker than my winter woollies. The very act of breathing makes me work up a sweat. Emerging from my morning shower un-freshed, I dry off merely to wet on. Clothes cling. Rashes arise. The only part of me that delights is my hair; it springs forth, a profusion of frizzy, wiry, cork-screwy curls that make my head appear an over-sized Brillo pad, too big for my body to support, too unwieldy to scour sticky pots in the average-sized kitchen sink.

Air conditioned environs offer some respite and, often, a path to pneumonia. Again, you need a suitcase full of clothing, from bikini to snowsuit, as you never know how hot or cold you'll be, inside or out. I am not a fan of air conditioning, which reminds me that Legionnaire's disease might be just a breath away. Neither do I enjoy being in rooms where fans merely serve to ripple the near-liquid streams of sluggish air.

This is what I am facing today, as the temperature soars to near 100 degrees F, the humidity to 190%, and the combination boils down to a sort of crock pot for stewing any known life form in its own juices.

Needless to write, I am clamoring for Spring or Autumn -- the rains that actually cool us off, the temperate temperatures that enable us to go about our daily business and pleasure without having to pry ourselves off sticky seats, causing us to sacrifice a tender layer of skin and leaving us even more hot and bothered.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Eyes Have It -- And So Does the Rest of Me (Richmond, VA)

Forget bedroom or Betty Gable eyes. These days I'm sporting not-so-chic Bride of Frankenstein peepers. I'm talking pink eye, that electric-red, radiating-line, scary-to-small-children look.

While the windows to my soul should be shuttered to anyone but the Undead, the rest of me is equally shudder-inducing: Lungs are crackling, cough is hacking, voice is breaking, joints are aching, head is swimming, sight is dimming. I sound as bad as I feel.

Feeling sick is bad enough when the weather is unpleasant, but I hate that I've missed some of the nicest days this week as I lay abed. Had I actually succeeded in dozing off, I might be better by now. But the bloody birds in the trees, the thundering bass blasting from car radios, the sometimes simultaneously screeching ambulance, police, and fire sirens, human and feline voices, and that blasted, rinky-dink tune from the ice cream truck all float up from the street and straight into my congested earways.

Except for some interpreting assignments and visits to the doctor and pharmacy, I've been staying home, a shut in. I know I'm in bad shape when I don't have the desire to dance or zumba and when I am not all that interested in food. So what, exactly, have I been doing when not trying to sleep? I've squinted my way through four or five books, solved umpteen crossword puzzles, Facebooked way too much, practically Carpal-tunneled myself playing Solitaire. Sometimes I'm too tired to get up to get whatever it was I forgot the last time I got up to get it.

If only my Mother were still alive to dose me with chicken soup (a.k.a. Jewish penicillin), to soothe my aching brow, and to worry me well again! Oh, well. One can only dream -- if only one could sleep. However, now that I am fully eye dropped, antibioticized, cough suppressed, doped up with vitamin D, and sated with C, maybe I'll be able to catch some ZZZ's. I'm hoping to get back to the rhythms of life in the blink of a normal eye.